December 7, 2016
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847-546-4983


This image released by A24 Films shows Alex Hibbert in a scene from the film “Moonlight.” ( ap photo )

Love illuminates lyrical, coming-of-age drama ‘Moonlight’

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Barry Jenkins’ beautiful “Moonlight” seems to have more in common with poetry than with a typical narrative film. It’s less a story than a collection of moments, which leaves its viewer feeling moved and changed, as if you’ve spent time in someone else’s dreams and woke up understanding who they are. Based on a work by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney (its first incarnation was lyrically titled “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”), it’s a three-act drama unfolding over two decades, in which a gay black man comes of age in a tough Miami neighborhood.

We first meet Chiron as a 10-year-old nicknamed Little (Alex Hibbert); the action then moves forward to Chiron as a teen (Ashton Sanders), and finally an adult whose street name is Black (Trevante Rhodes). The child Chiron is wide-eyed and mostly silent; he’s wondering why he feels the way he does about other boys, and why his crack-addicted mother (Naomie Harris) doesn’t seem to love him. That boy vanishes into the teen, bullied at school but beginning to know what he wants, then flows into the man — who still, as an old friend tells him, “can’t say more than three words at a time.”

Jenkins, who previously directed “Medicine for Melancholy,” lets the camera linger on quiet moments — a moonlit beach; a night street wet with summer rain; a head resting on a shoulder as if it’s come home — and layers on a dreamlike score (by Nicholas Britell) that seems to encompass every emotion we see on screen, from plangent strings to operatic arias to hip-hop.

‘Moana’ is spirited, beautifully animated

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“Princess” is what the demigod Maui calls Moana, the teenage namesake of Disney’s latest animated film. Moana doesn’t want the title — it sounds a little condescending — but Maui persists. “You’re in a dress and you’ve got an animal sidekick,” he points out. “You’re a princess.”

That’s a stereotype Disney itself has helped create since 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” but the studio has been steadily updating its attitude for the gender-equal 21st century. “Tangled,” about a rebellious Rapunzel, was an early attempt in 2010, but it was “Frozen” (2013) that turned girl power into box-office gold and topped the Billboard charts with the hear-me-roar anthem “Let It Go.” Although “Moana” may not strike the same chords — despite several catchy songs co-written by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda — it’s a spirited and beautifully animated adventure story that never sells its young heroine short.

‘Bad Santa 2’ doesn’t offer much comfort, joy

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If you like a little sour lemon juice in your holiday eggnog, “Bad Santa 2” just might suit your taste. This sequel to the anti-sentimental comedy “Bad Santa” — a modern classic from 2003 — reunites its main cast for another round of heartless behavior and low-stooping jokes. Even an R-rated Christmas comedy, though, should offer us a little comfort and joy, something “Bad Santa 2” seems determined not to do.

Billy Bob Thornton returns as Willie Soke, the safecracking Saint Nick, along with Tony Cox as his elfin helpmate, Marcus. When we last saw him, Willie had created an ersatz family with Sue (Lauren Graham), a woman with a convenient Santa Claus fetish, and chubby Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), a boy with more heart than brains. Thirteen years later, Sue is gone, Thurman is on his own and Willie is back to his hard-drinking ways. The film opens with Willie writing a note and sticking his head in the oven.

‘Allied’ squanders Pitt, Cotillard

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Not succeeding as a World War II drama, spy thriller or love story, “Allied” is what you will find in the dictionary if you look up “insipid.” It’s hard to squander the star power of Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard together, especially if they’re handsomely costumed and smooching a lot, but somehow it has been done. If it was a student-thesis feature in film school, it would barely earn a passing grade. It is vanilla banality run amok.

Here we have Pitt at his poker-faced worst, playing a deadly Canadian spy/assassin parachuting behind German lines, donning retro-stylish civilian disguises and carrying off machine gun raids resembling rejected outtakes from “Inglourious Basterds.” Let me repeat that so you don’t think I have made a mistake. Pitt plays a two-fisted, rock-hard espionage agent and trigger man — from Canada. By speaking in an accent that has never been within 1,000 miles of Montreal.

‘Rules Don’t Apply’ is a frantic mess

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What better way to round out the month of November 2016 than with a hectic, over-stuffed biopic about an eccentric billionaire despot who uses his inherited wealth to make a giant mess of things in both the entertainment industry and federal government? Truly, there’s a deep sense of irony in the release date of Warren Beatty’s Howard Hughes film, “Rules Don’t Apply.” And yet, it would still be a stinker even if it wasn’t cloaked in a dark shroud of cultural and political relevancy. It’s just that bad.

Beatty, on screen for the first time in 15 years, plays the notoriously weird Hollywood and aviation mogul Hughes in the film, which he directed and co-wrote. He has rounded up every single up-and-coming young actor, his wife Annette Bening, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, and no less than four credited film editors to aid in this endeavor, and yet the finished product is still a profoundly annoying and torturously long unstructured meander through five years of Hughes’ life, from 1959 to 1964.

‘Fantastic Beasts’ expands Harry Potter universe

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As soon as the familiar twinkly score starts up and the eerie blue Warner Brothers logo appears on screen before “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” you’re transported back to that oh-so-familiar magical world spun by the keys of J.K. Rowling. It feels like plunging into a bath. But it’s definitely not all-too-familiar — there isn’t a butterbeer or an owl in sight. “Fantastic Beasts” is “Harry Potter” with adults, with the added pizzazz of all the salacious trappings of 1926 Jazz Age New York to spice up the style.

Our hero is a tousle-haired, stoop-shouldered ginger from the fair isle of Britain, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). He arrives in New York City the way many of the immigrants who made this country great did, through Ellis Island. But the one shady thing he smuggles through customs is a battered suitcase that growls, hisses and rattles. Those would be the fantastic beasts with which the film is concerned — they’re outlawed in the U.S. magical world, which is strictly kept secret from the No-Majs (aka Muggles).

‘Edge of Seventeen’ — instant teen classic

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Every generation needs a defining teen movie, and “The Edge of Seventeen” just might be that film for this generation. The icing on the cake is that it’ll likely appeal even more to older audiences who can look back on their teenage years with a mix of fondness, sympathy and embarrassment. Female filmmakers are often behind some of the best teen classics — “Clueless,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Juno,” and “Mean Girls” — and “The Edge of Seventeen” enters this echelon as the directorial debut of Kelly Fremon Craig, who also wrote the screenplay.

Hailee Steinfeld stars as the misanthropic Nadine, a misfit who’s never found her tribe, aside from her only friend Krista (Hayley Lu Richardson), a ray of sunshine and goodness. When Krista collides romantically with Nadine’s hunky, golden boy older brother Darien (Blake Jenner), Nadine is thrown into a suicidal spiral, a spinout of epic proportions, because in high school, the social stakes are always that high.

‘Halftime Walk’ is a mesmeric trip

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“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk ” is not a war movie in the traditional sense. There are battle scenes, and brothers-in-arms banter, sure, but like its pioneering technology, on a pure story level “Billy Lynn’s” also pushes the boundaries of what we can expect from this genre.

The film is a precisely observed portrait of a young man slowly realizing his own trauma and agency over the course of a single football game. In other words, not the movie one might peg to usher in an entirely new way of experiencing images on the big screen, with its hyper-real 120 frames per second. But that’s Ang Lee for you, one of the rare filmmakers adept at both embracing and enhancing a story’s literary origins with measured spectacle.

Mo’Nique brings the cheer to ‘Almost Christmas’

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If there is any reason, besides an annual craving for cinematic Christmas cheer, to see “Almost Christmas,” that reason is Mo’Nique. Heck, the Mo’Nique bloopers at the end of the film are worth the price of admission. So thank you, writer/director David E. Talbert for finally giving Mo’Nique a decent role after her Oscar-winning turn in 2009’s “Precious” — we needed her back on the big screen.

Talbert does right by essentially turning the cameras on and letting Mo’Nique do her thing as the eccentric, motormouth Aunt May of the Meyers clan, swathed in caftans, sporting numerous wigs and spouting stories about her glamorous life as a backup singer for global superstars. You’ll wish for more of her, and in fact, if “Almost Christmas” has any sort of sequel or spin off, it’d be criminal if it wasn’t a prequel focused on Aunt May’s backstory. Mo’Nique is a treasure, and “Almost Christmas” is a fine reminder of that.

‘Arrival’ is flawlessly made

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Movies about the first connection between humans and extraterrestrials tend to follow one of several standard routes. The “Alien,” “Predator” and “Independence Day” series were alien-blasting jamborees. The early Superman movies, “E.T.” and “The Iron Giant” built an optimistic tradition of friends from space and misunderstandings that could be overcome. Paranoid thrillers like “The Mist” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” showed earthlings helplessly outclassed by the new arrivals.

Denis Villeneuve’s breathtaking, thought-provoking “Arrival” follows a different, seldom trod path. The focus is serious human drama, gripping in a way science-fiction films achieve all too rarely. The film is intricately handsome and rarely showy, flawlessly made and earnest-minded.

‘Inferno’ features great cast, muddled plot

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Imagine a less spry and agile Indiana Jones and you have Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a Harvard professor of religious iconography and symbology (not a real academic discipline). He’s riddled his way from the page to the screen in the wildly popular “The DaVinci Code,” and “Angels & Demons,” adapted from Dan Brown’s series of quasi-religious, art history-inspired mystery novels most likely to be found on the shelf of an Airbnb rental. Now imagine a less spry and agile Indiana Jones in “The Hangover,” with shades of “Contagion” wafting about, and you have the third film in the trilogy, “Inferno.”

In “Inferno,” Langdon wakes up in a Florence hospital bed with one heck of a hangover. He’s beset by horrible visions of wrecked bodies with backwards heads covered in skin pustules, men in beaked masks, a mysterious woman on a fiery street. He’s got a head wound, no idea where he is, and the worst migraine of all time. Director Ron Howard, who also helmed the previous two installments, takes the head trauma as an opportunity to experiment with an edgier form and style. The screeching noises, flashing lights, rapid editing and queasy camera movements will make you too feel like you’re experiencing head trauma.

Tyler Perry’s ‘Madea Halloween’ is all about the laughs

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Fans of Mabel “Madea” Simmons’ longtime foil Joe will be happy to see the wisecracking character let loose — even looser than usual — in Tyler Perry’s “Boo! A Madea Halloween.”

Joe goes above and beyond in his lewd quips. And he gets to bind and gag a trespassing clown.

‘Jack Reacher’ plays to Tom Cruise’s strengths

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Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) will use a gun if the situation calls for it, but he prefers to use his fists. His punches in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” don’t so much land as explode like cannon shots, decimating car windows, cement walls and the faces of his enemies: soldiers turned mercenaries with grown-out buzz cuts. Reacher’s former military himself, an ex-major (emphasis on the “ex”) in the Military Police Corps.

Now he roams the land solving crimes, enacting justice, and calling the current commanding officer of the 110th, Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), to commiserate about the job. When Susan’s arrested for espionage, Jack goes into full Reacher mode — he’s a bit like a very violent, near psychic MacGyver — to spring Susan from the clink and uncover a shady military arms deal.

‘The Joneses’ is another studio comedy misfire

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The modern studio comedy increasingly feels limp, suffocated by the financial imperatives of high-concept plots and desperately in search of signs of life. Greg Mottola’s “Keeping Up With the Joneses” is, like many before it, fine enough. But it mostly goes down as another collection of funny people stuck in too narrowly clichéd roles in an overly familiar story.

It’s now been more than 10 years since “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and five since “Bridesmaids.” (Feel old yet?) There have, undoubtedly, been good comedies since, namely things with Melissa McCarthy in them, Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha” and anything Wes Anderson is putting out. But there has been perhaps no greater casualty to the constrictions of blockbuster-centric Hollywood than comedy. The freedom necessary for comedy to thrive is mostly found on television; the action is with “Broad City,” “Atlanta,” “Inside Amy Schumer” and others.

‘The Accountant’ doesn’t quite add up

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Director Gavin O’Connor’s thriller “The Accountant” almost seems like an excuse for Ben Affleck to try his hand at playing a math whiz for once. But Affleck’s Christian Wolff is a far cry from Will Hunting. Chris is a high functioning math savant on the autism spectrum, who finds solace in ritual, routine, patterns and finishing his tasks. He leads an unassuming and mundane life in rural Illinois as a strip mall accountant, but of course what looks simple and quiet never is.

His unique gifts allow him a lucrative side-hustle as a forensic accountant for “some of the scariest people on the planet,” according to Ray King (J.K. Simmons), director of crime enforcement at the Department of the Treasury. But that part of his life isn’t so much what “The Accountant” is about. There’s no globe-trotting or cavorting with cartels and mob bosses. The film is a bit of a bait and switch. We think we’re diving into the antithetical world of the criminal accountant, but what the film wants to explore is where Chris came from, and how he works.

In ‘American Honey,’ finding family in a hopeless place

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TORONTO (AP) — The face filmmaker Andrea Arnold makes at the thought of storyboarding her films is the kind of bitter, disgusted look most people reserve for a bath full of leeches.

Once her “Eww!” has receded, the British director leans forward and explains why she won’t sketch her shots in advance. “I want to bring life into what I’m doing,” she says. “I try to create that sort of atmosphere which involves not being too structured. If I start controlling it too much, I think the life goes.”

‘Birth of a Nation’ bluntly tells tale of Nat Turner

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“The Birth of a Nation ” has had more expectations placed on it than any movie could reasonably bear.

When the film about Nat Turner and his 1831 slave rebellion premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, it was held up, unfairly or not, as everyone’s great hope to save us from another year of #OscarsSoWhite. Some handful of months later, it became representative of something else when the focus shifted to the then little-known fact that its creator and star, Nate Parker, had a past that involved not only a rape allegation, but the eventual suicide of the accuser.

‘Girl on the Train’ doesn’t stay on the rails

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Tate Taylor’s “The Girl on the Train” may be technically set in the Westchester suburb of Ardsley-on-Hudson, but its cocktail of commuter trains, marital infidelity and alcoholism make its proper setting Cheever Country.

The unhappy, martini-stained lives of New York suburbanites have long been a rich vein for writers like John Cheever, Richard Yates and Paula Fox. “The Girl on the Train” is the trashier, paperback version. Its old-school title may suggest Hitchcock or maybe Fincher (who himself is remaking Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train”). But Taylor’s film, disappointingly, is nowhere near the league of either. Instead, it’s closer to the kind of early ’90s psychological thriller where bad things happen in slow motion and deadly instruments are drawn from kitchen drawers.

‘Masterminds’ is goofy fun, but not a masterpiece

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There’s a certain subset of the population that may find Zach Galifianakis in a ridiculous hairdo the height of comedy. If you are in that segment, welcome, join us. You’ll find much merriment in the lightweight and very silly comedy “Masterminds,” which is astonishingly based on the true story of one of the largest cash robberies in the United States. Also, Galifianakis sports a variety of insane wigs and ’dos, from a long blonde number, to a kinky black perm, to his own Prince Valiant bob, styled for the heavens.

“Masterminds” is a small, very strange film, and definitely doesn’t enter the upper echelons of director Jared Hess’ oeuvre, which includes the wacky comedy classics “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Nacho Libre,” or even the best work of its stars. Nevertheless, the marriage of the insane 1997 true crime story and the murderer’s row of comic performers results in copious laughter.

Riveting ‘Deepwater Horizon’ captivates throughout

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We all know how “Deepwater Horizon ” ends. When the BP oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, 11 people died and millions of gallons of oil spewed into the waters and up against the Gulf shores in the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

The story of the aftermath, even 6 years later, is still being written. The how-did-it-happen is another thing, and the point of director Peter Berg’s intensely thrilling indictment of the greed and gross negligence that contributed to the horrific outcome.

Wee, weird heroes star in ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home’

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Fall has officially just started, but there’s still one more superhero flick sneaking in just before all the summer heat vanishes completely. But if you want muscled torsos and capes, you’ll be sadly disappointed.

After a steady stream this year of Batman, Superman, Captain America, X-Men and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’s time now for a group of kids who float, are invisible, who spark fire, manipulate plants, control bees and give life to inanimate objects. Not really X-Men, exactly. Call them X-Tweens.

GO Kenosha

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